Shattered Wig #28

Shattered Wig #28
Coming In November!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Another Reason to Love My New 'Hood: Invasion of the Hopping String Felons

Walking three or four blocks from our new house on a Friday evening and climbing the darkened but decorated stairs to the Hamilton Alliance to hear the wild unwashed sounds of the Baltimore String Felons was just what I needed to shake the lurking spectre of death that has been hovering the last six months. Even at the glorious backyard book release party for Adam Robinson's new book editor Justin's cat had just returned from the vet's with a prognosis of impending death. The next day after the all the glistening dogs had been eaten and the firepit had cooled the cat had left us to nibble at the great arse of Godmouse beyond.

Then last Sunday Everly and I were returning on a beautiful sunny day from an unnamed house repair/supply giant with a brand new mower - a red and black gas monster, baby! I will step up my recycling and good deeds to make amends - and new "Hep Green" paint to makeover some porch furniture and our porch rail. Excited about the coming of Spring and lighting up the drab exterior of our house - the former owner was what you might call a Pint Bottle Shirker, who didn't even plant a shrub or tree - and when we opened our car doors there was a double keening. One high pitched and frantic, the other low and guttural. I looked up the street and saw a young girl bending over as if in pain and yelling and an elderly woman half running backwards up the street moaning "Somebody help me". We went toward them as did our closer neighbor who as it turned out luckily was with two friends who knew cpr. The older woman hysterically wrapped herself around Everly, putting her in a chokehold. Meanwhile the young girl had ran off down the street with someone else who had popped out of one of the houses. The older woman calmed down enough to tell us through broken breaths that her eldest son was on the floor inside, that an ambulance had come for him an hour earlier but he refused to get in it.

Everything happened so quickly and was such a 180 degree turn from the sunny home repair mind we were in that we were stunned. I think if Everly hadn't had a hold on the older woman or vice versa she would have run into the traffic in blind grief. At least a half dozen other faces appeared at the door of the woman's house, most of them shouting into cellphones. The neighbor closest to us and her two friends went inside the sick man's house to try to help. It only took a few minutes for the medics to show up and one of the neighbors who had administered cpr to the son said he had moved and breathed on his own.

We drifted back into our house, hauling our shiny lawnmower and paint. The next day Everly ran into the older woman on her way to work and found out the son had died. Now when I paint on the porch or run the circular sander I feel a guilt and a hovering presence.

But all it took was an instant of the hopping unwashed Baltimore String Felons, the City Paper calls them crust folk, to take the stage and then abandon it to wander closer to the crowd to banish the gloom from my mind and put me back in the wash and spin cycle of no holds barred life. Mikey the banjo player and singer has truly gained his own voice, which is saying something as young as he is and in the field of "Americana" music or old timey music or whatever you want to call it. Country jazz? Weirdo folk hop? And I love the band not just because my talented multi-instrumentalist nephew Soft Serve is in it. He whipped up on the fiddle most of the time, but also played some mandolin and even a clean mean crisp ukulele.

After the Felons a group traveling from New York called Spirit Family Reunion, not to be confused with Spiritual Family Reunion, which is what Chris Toll and I were familiar with and thought we were going to hear, played. Pretty good. Tiny Woody Guthrie-like guy playing a nice brown parlor acoustic and a willowy double jointed banjo player with a good voice.

All that plus a quick heaping bowl of authentic Maryland crab soup at Clementine a block away beforehand. I love my neighborhood.

JUST IN: Found this nice review in the City Paper of the String Felons live when they played with Balti Mare.

"Earlier in the night, the Baltimore String Felons offered their own unique twist on folk traditions, theirs being more distinctly American. And what's so refreshing about the weirdo folk acts in Maryland, as opposed to say New York or California, is that we're not so far from Appalachia that the musicians seem more connected to those influences, and more likely to have actual family roots. The String Felons, with their fiddle and banjo twang, have a definite mountain sound in their so-called "inner city doomgrass," even with its oddball twists, including songs that detail the assassination of JFK or choruses that howl "please don't kill me." And like Balti Mare, the combination of tradition and playful irreverence is what makes the String Felons work."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Celebrating Adam Robinson's New Skewing of Reality On a Cool Springlike Night

My head and heart are still reeling from the radical 180 degree turn from brutal blizzard conditions to soft spring breezes and consistent weather with highs in the 70s. Inspired by the weather and a new collection of writing by Adam Robinson on Narrowhouse Press called Adam Robison, we were chauffeured blindfolded out to an undisclosed backyard where the overlord of Narrowhouse, Justin Sirois, holds court. There was a fantastic firepit crackling, weenies of average mettle grilling and great music playing. It was all capped off by the author doing a reading from his book, but first he preceded it by shaving off his winter's beard.

Adam's readings are always refreshing and put me in a good mood, so it's great to have a bunch of his stuff handy for everyday reference. The poems of Adam Robison, like the "misspelling" of the title if you compare it to its author, its presumed "subject?", are slightly skewed reflections of their biographical subjects. Well, not always. But almost always they hold that moment of crazy truth that pops out of the nothingness oven.

Here is a portion of his poem entitled "Brahms":

See Brahms only had one hand
But he was exceedingly generous with it
Brahms was the kind of guy
He drove through toll booths
He'd ask the attendant to apply his change
To the fare of the carriage behind him please
And he traveled a lot

He insisted on strict realism
He protested excess
He scorned the work of Magritte
Clara shared with him amusing French anecdotes
Still he disdained the man's paintings
Objecting that they were "too gay"
Or "perhaps interesting but dishonest at their core"

At the time gay meant frivolous
No one knows what frivolous meant

The above photos capture the author beaming with his new book, followed by the various stages of his shaving process - beginning with his self doubt regarding the act and the angst of truly releasing himself from the wintry wall of his manhairs. Followed by Lauren Bender, who had been eating only spiders for two weeks reading Georges Bataille, hunching her shoulders with excitement and vigorously callling for the tall man in the final picture to "Tear them off, tear them off!" Which indeed he did and they are now on ice in a styrofoam cooler being jetted to some sick rich fuck who will slurp them down slowly with great relish like savoring the richest, rarest truffle.

Spring can be frightening in its promises and abundant life and an open face is just as scary with its lips revealed fully like a fresh appendix scar.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Normal's Plug and Interview In HTML Giant

Adam Robinson
March 18th, 2010 / 3:11 pm
Behind the Scenes & Q & A

Bookstore Interview: Normal’s Books & Records, Baltimore

Google “Baltimore used bookstore” and click “I’m feeling lucky.” You will be. The first hit is Normal’s Books & Records, one of the best used shops I’ve ever been to. It isn’t just the selection that makes it great, though it’s clear that Rupert Wondolowski, who runs the buying there, knows great literature beyond the classics. It isn’t just the personality of the store, even though there are plenty of funny signs and doodads around to keep your friends interested while you spend an hour searching for some lost dub record. What I like best about Normal’s is: dang, they are invested in the local arts scene. Aside from stocking all the amazing books, music, zines etc. that get put out around town, the collective hosts weekly shows at the Red Room, which is attached to the store, Rupert runs an always-interesting reading/performance series called “Shattered Wig Night” and he also puts out an old-school tape-up journal called The Shattered Wig Review. Oh yeah, and he wrote a pretty dynamite book called The Origin of Paranoia as a Heated Mole Suit (Publishing Genius 2008). Interview about bookselling after the break.

How do you describe Normal’s to people in Arizona, if they seem genuinely interested?

First off, they must be warned that if they come in summer Baltimore heat is like a wet suction cup around the brain, not at all like their dry heat that has kept John McCain preserved and looking only 70 when he is actually a 300-year-old extraterrestrial.

Normal’s is an organic farm of cultural livestock. We serve a diverse community books, records and CDs, so you might find a copy of Jim Thompson’s Savage Night as well as a CD by The Jelly Roll Kings. We are located in the proximity of 3 universities and have a broad scholarly stock of books, including a huge philosophy section and a very fine Greek and Roman literature section. But within this solid base spanning the history of thought you will find pockets of sweet subversion and alternate universes.

When we opened in 1990 we thought primarily of ourselves as a great bookstore that happened to have vinyl records and CDs also. The vile plastic CD with its insidious tiny print was in its heyday and there were actually those who mocked us for carrying vinyl (of course most of them were government plants, but still . . .) Now, nineteen years later records are red hot, needing to die for American vampire culture to find them sexy again.

So how do record sales compare to book sales?

The book to record ratio is hard to call. But probably year round it works out to about 60% books to 40% records, with records selling more in the summer and books more in the winter.

So Normal’s has been around for 20 years? What are some of the changes you’ve seen over that time?

I think I might have partially answered this one. Due to the internet eroding a lot of the classic model book-browsing culture, our own burden called “The Book Thing” (more on that to come in ensuing questions) and our abiding love for vinyl records and their resurrection, we have shifted somewhat in our perception of ourselves and our actual sales into very much a book AND record store.

In the last five years or so, to compete with Amazon and all the armchair shopping we’ve had to sell a lot more online. Bending to Amazon’s power. Because the internet portals of course get their cut we basically have to work almost twice as hard to almost make what we did back in the halcyon days of Bill Clinton’s tumescent economy.

What about online sales? Has technology made an impact on the bookstore? Like, are you selling way fewer books now than you were 15 years ago?

We’re definitely selling fewer books, but it has caused us to be more picky and specialized. We now make more use of technology to turn the hoodoo around.

Over the last few years our online sales have had to expand, but we are unique in that the majority of our sales are still in person. But it’s probably a 60/40 split at this point.

What about dudes that travel from all over the country to buy large amounts of books from you — doesn’t that happen?

We do get visitors from all over, especially record dealers. Before the great Depression That Couldn’t Be Called a Depression, we probably got Japanese and/or German record dealers in once a week or so. Since George W. pulled his bloodied jaws off the American corpse it’s probably more like once a month or two.

But the world of serious book and record collectors is a small, supportive one. Word gets around through word of mouth. And at this point we’ve even got a plug in Rolling Stone magazine, so that helps.

Sometimes I talk to you and think, “Whoa, Rupert is like a real businessman.” Do you feel like you have developed skills in that area, or does it come natural to you? Do you recognize a difference between your business smarts and your other smarts?

Why thank you, se┼łor. I think. I’ve been in the book business since 1982 and so has one of the other owners. I think I’ve gotten tougher and pickier over the years as far as what we buy and making sure we get a decent markup, but hopefully from the beginning my/our love and knowledge of what we’re dealing with was in place. At my advanced age and the disappearance of a lot of what I hold/held dear, but I’m not sure about a lot, especially the shape or existence of my smarts. I’ve always thought I had good instincts in art and business. And well-shaped nalgas.

Normal’s is run collectively, right? Does that help account for your longevity?

Normal’s was started in 1990 by nine equal co-owners as a collectively run sub-S corporation (still not sure exactly what a “sub-S” corporation is). Having so many people with different skills and interests in the beginning really helped keep our costs low and make us an interesting destination. It also helped to run the first few months on volunteer hours to get some capital generated. With nine people we were able to work other jobs and donate a few days a week to Normal’s for free, keeping track of the hours so that in the future there might be some compensation.

Normal’s has always been just as much a cultural endeavor as a business endeavor. With The Red Room shows and their High Zero festival plus Shattered Wig Press activity and all the talented folks that have passed through here, including the boddhisattva Blaster Al Ackerman, we’ve been a part of a community that has helped support us.

How has the Book Thing being so close affected business? (Aside to readers — Baltimore has this big free bookstore called the Book Thing where people donate books and they shelved and given away for free. You just go and help yourself to as many free books as you want. Though most of the selection is total crap, and probably bed-bug ridden, it’s possible to find a surprise occasionally. The hitch is that The Book Thing gets first dibs, so your nicely donated books aren’t necessarily becoming part of the gift economy.)

Oh The Book Thing. I could go on a novella sized rant about the Book Thing. Let me start with saying that the whole idea about used bookstores is the cheapness of most of the books. It’s not like books were some high ticket luxury item that needed to be brought down to the masses. We have always had and still have books ranging in the $1 to $3 scale. And all booksellers have always given some of their books away for free. To Goodwills and libraries. Libraries are free and Goodwills employ many people. The thing that gets me about the Book Thing is that most of the books higher in value than $6 or so get sold. On ABE, Amazon, ebay, on consignment to a local high end bookstore and some are even auctioned at Sotheby’s.

Now I doubt that the administrator of the Book Thing is getting filthy rich, but there is a lot of money being made and there is no transparency to the public about what money is made and where it’s all going. There is no heat being run there in the winter other than the owner’s office and no AC in the summer (other than the owner’s office). Helpers volunteer their time and his transportation was donated. And it’s great that many books get to some people who are in the lower income bracket – although it started out in Charles Village and there was a response just short of an uproar when he announced he was moving it to Waverly, a decent neighborhood where we’re located but where a lot of his Charles Village upper class clientele for the free were concerned they might be brushing up against the underclass.

I am obviously not neutral on this issue. Since they moved directly behind us we’ve lost around $20,000 to $30,000 in sales and I see many of our former customers, a lot of whom are Hopkins professors and white collar workers, coming out of there on weekends with full boxloads.

So do you think about it all the time, about what you have to do, and how you can make it better and whether or not you want to accept Starbucks’s offer to bring in a latte machine?

I’m not exaggerating and my girlfriend Everly will attest to this, that I think about the store almost constantly. Way too much. To the point of losing sleep and stomach lining. Due to the tight capital nature of the used book business at this time and the fact that we don’t own the building we occupy there are limits to the cosmetic things we could/can do. Hopefully I remain open to the ideas of the younger people working here over the years who got us into blogging and Facebooking about the stock, which I think has helped bring in a lot of new people. That’s a huge difference since we started business. Things like the Yellow Pages and most other advertising have become almost obsolete compared to a strong web presence.

One year we splurged and took out a large Yellow Pages ad with a graphic – they literally lied to our faces about the costs and tried to charge us about five times what they said it would cost, I think they could smell their own deaths coming and were looking for prey – and we never heard one customer say they came to us through the Yellow Pages. It’s always “I Googled used bookstores in Baltimore and you were the first to pop up with all your awards and Noble Prizes and beautiful employees who are Rhode scholars and practicing physicians.”

Has running a bookstore influenced your own writing?

It’s funny because one of the main reasons all of us started Normal’s was we are/were all artists of one kind – musicians and writers mainly, but now I realize there is a kind of small business owner obsession that can cut into my writing brain. But on the other hand, through this job and the location of the store I have met an incredible assortment of people and it’s allowed me to walk into my daily job the same person I am at home (mostly). Baltimore is an incredible city of autodidacts. Edgar Cayce said something once about it all was going to go down spiritually or cosmically here and there certainly are all kinds of wild metaphysical seekers.

What’s next?

Better shelving, prettier surroundings, a cafe bakery next door and sword swallowing palm reading scantily clad book clerks.

Tags: ,


  1. Joseph Young
  2. Adam Robinson

      Oh, I meant to say something about this interview — that I don’t often read about bookstores that are actually getting by (it seems like newspapers love writing about places going out of business, though). So what I really like about this is hearing the challenges of the business as told by someone that is still making the bookstore work.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Letters From Pappy In Chengdu - Episode 2: On Catness & "The Prime Directive"

The drumbeats of Pappy are working! The Shattered Wig switchboard has been lighting up non-stop since we posted the tale of Pappy's torturous kidney stone. Youngsters with bad mullets are holding their sides pretending immense pain so that they too can be as groovy and enigmatic as our weary world traveler Monsieur Paps. Judging by the responses it is indeed time to unleash a new book of Mark's on Shattered Wig. But for now, at least a new missive. This one on the essence of "catness" and "The Prime Directive".

Roop -- A letter to Cassius describing my I don't know what experience with the essence of cat-ness...

Dear Cassius –

If you ever wake up in the middle of the night from a dream in which your Uncle Mark is lying under a car looking up into the engine and holding onto a white string, don’t worry. It has already happened and I was not hit by the car – it was something else entirely, as you will see – and no lasting harm came to me. All the unfortunate aftermath was taken by my black cat and even he is okay now. Chip always says, “No good deed goes unpunished” and he’s completely right. I have a story to prove it yet again.
So you remember our black cat, who looks a little like Mojo only more beat up and slightly crazier. He’s a street cat really and there’s no reason to believe he’ll ever be “domesticated.” He comes up to our apartment for food and to keep warm when it’s really rainy, but when the girl cats are in heat, he’s outside for days at a time, howling and raping and having such fun, but he’s not quite as strong as the other males around here and, last time, he came back completely beaten to a pulp. We put him on our couch and tried to tend his wounds and he slept for about 14 hours. He was in such bad shape that I watched him fall off the couch – he rolled over and dropped like a rock, THUD – something I’ve never seen a cat do before. I thought they were always supposed to land on their feet.

Of course, Maureen and I decided we had to take him to the vet. In America, this is a perfectly straightforward proposition, but here in Chengdu, there’s always some complex angle to it. After a couple of days and the help of my student, Mike, we borrowed a carrying cage from the vet and were ready to transport the wounded hero. Now this was not one of those plastic cat-carriers you see in the States, but more like a big, square bird-cage of thin wire bars. I think, because the cat had a couple of days’ rest, he had had time to recover. So when we put him in the cage, he growled a lot, studied it and when we had gotten the cage on the back of Mike’s motorcycle, he pried the wall of the cage open with his paws and – ZOOM! – off he went.

Two days later, we found him again. I had greatly strengthened the cage with pliers and lots of wire. I was thinking of Papa at the time because I was just like him, cussing and swearing at the pliers, the wire and especially the cat. It must’ve been funny to watch, though Maureen was certainly diplomatic. We’ve been together long enough for her to know she should avoid me when I’m doing anything with tools. So, after lots of cat screaming and scratching, we got him into the cage again, this time double-reinforced with bungee cords, and walked him out to the street to catch a taxi.

Now, our apartment complex has a gate with a guard shack at the front, like almost every apartment complex in China. If you’ve been living in America it’s a little scary at first, just because you’ve heard China is a Communist country and you might think the guards are there to keep you in and spied on and all that, but, believe me, that’s not even close to the truth of the matter. They’re not even any good at keeping people out. My bike was stolen, my neighbor’s bike was stolen and another neighbor had his lock broken by someone who was trying to steal his bike. As far as I can tell, the guards are working because they know somebody and they’re all ex-military. It is just a make-work program to keep ex-soldiers happy. For example, our guards are usually asleep or playing with the local kids. In fact, I think they make a little extra money as baby sitters. They’ll often be surrounded by ten or fifteen kids, playing badminton or scrawling on the walkway with chalk. Or, they might be drunk. A couple of times they have called me over and given me shots of moonshine. Yow, it’s strong. I’ve even been over to one of the guards’ house and given snake wine and lots of hot pot. But intimidating they’re not.

Anyway, the reason I mention the guards is that, as Maureen and I were leaving with a screaming clawing cat in a cage, they kept trying to give me ice cream. They had about thirty ice creams on a stick and all the kids already had had enough. It was like they didn’t notice this cat going completely insane, peeing all over the walkway and howling in a cage. But I brushed them off and hailed a cab and finally got the cat in the trunk of the cab while Maureen was politely declining many, many offers of every kind of ice cream. I think I should have stayed home with the ice cream.

By the way, the guards call me “Mah-kuh.”

We got to the corner nearest the vet, which is on First Ring Road, a very busy street. Chengdu has three big “ring roads,” which, as you can guess, circle the city. We were a ridiculous sight carrying the caged screaming cat from the corner to the vet and, luckily, we ran into two of my students, Ivan and Candy – I know, the kids choose the most ridiculous English names sometimes, I’ve even had a Pudding and now I have a Pore. Ivan and Candy were bringing their puppy back from the vet after having the poor little thing “fixed.” I tell you, there’s nothing more heart-breaking than a drugged-up, ball-less puppy being carried in a purse. But they came back to the vet with us to help us translate our needs to the vet and I’m sure the poor kids have regretted it ever since.

So I told the vet that the cat was very crazy and very strong, even though he still had two rather impressive wounds on his neck and side. The vet reassured me that he knew exactly what to do, not to worry. Basically, let the professional handle this from here on out, Mr. Foreigner. I warned him! He began by tying long, flat cloth strings to the cat’s legs, which went smoothly enough. But as he removed the cat from the cage, the cat screamed like a banshee, clawed the Vet’s sleeves to cabbage and went dashing away down First Ring Road.

It’s hard to describe how many people are in a Chinese city. I’m really used to it now, but an American or Canadian city just doesn’t compare. Think New York rush hour almost all the time.

So, out the door ran the cat, followed by Mark, followed by the vet. The cat took a hard left about twenty yards from the office, scrambling into a little rabbit-warren neighborhood. This is the way Chinese cities are. They have big main roads, but just off these roads, the neighborhoods are like mazes of tiny alleys and apartments. The vet and I actually didn’t do too badly at first, because the cat slowed down to check out the long, white strings tied to his legs. But as we got closer, he sprinted off madly and we were running full throttle, taking corners really fast and the vet fell down more than once. I knew I had to catch the little monster or I’d never be able to live with myself. I mean, the cat didn’t understand I had his well-being at heart. He was just a traumatized thing trying to get back to his home, but I knew he would never find it again if we didn’t catch him. You see, there are people called “cat fishermen” here in China who catch stray cats to sell in Guangdong province to restaurants. Yup, cat restaurants. So I was running like I’d never run before.

Luckily, the cat had those bright, white strings tied to his feet still. I saw him kind of sauntering along near a gathering of very old people. But then he saw me. He dashed under a table of old ladies who were playing mah-jongg. They started screaming. Then I came running by and they started screaming, “Lao Wai! Lao Wai!” That means “foreigner,” but a more accurate translation is “foreign devil,” literally “old foreigner.” So now we had the attention of the whole neighborhood.

I saw the cat head for a new, green compact car. He had gotten under the car, but a shred of string was sticking out, so I lunged and grabbed the end of the string. The cat screamed again and climbed up into the engine of the car. So there’s the image: I was lying under the car, holding onto a string, waiting for help from the vet, with a crowd of very startled Chinese folks peering down at me.

After ten minutes or so, the crowd got bored of the foreigner-under-the-car routine and wandered off. The vet had stuck his head down, saying something in Chinese and disappeared. Finally, Maureen, Ivan and Candy found me and the vet returned with even more string, which we tied to the string I was holding and then tied again to a tree, so if the cat decided to come out we could still catch him. Maureen and Ivan went off looking for the owner of the car and I sat down with Candy and the doped-up, castrated puppy.

This whole adventure began around 2:30 in the afternoon. Mike showed up later on his motorbike. Maureen and Ivan came back, after having consulted another nearly useless guard, only with the bad news that the owner of the car wasn’t going to get home from work until 7:30 in the evening. So I had time to think.

I don’t know if you ever really paid any attention to Star Trek, but in that show they have something called The Prime Directive, which means that, in the 23rd Century, Earth people were so advanced that, if they came into contact with any less-advanced alien civilizations, the main rule was NOT to contact them, give them technology or help them in any way, for fear of basically putting a monkey-wrench into their natural development. Now, of course, many episodes of Star Trek are precisely about violating The Prime Directive. Captain Kirk was particularly bad about that. I mean, I would think having sex with green alien girls would be covered by that kind of thing. Anyway, I was thinking about how I had been relating to this poor cat the whole time.

I think it was in October that Maureen began floating the idea of letting the cat come up to the apartment. I remember cracking wise about The Prime Directive at the time, but I relented quite easily, because the cat has so much personality and is really entertaining to have around. He jumps on my chair while I’m writing and snuggles close to my ass, sometimes clawing, but always complaining loudly if I move in the slightest. He’s very bossy, very demanding, yet somehow I really grew to like him. But his main life is out in the neighborhood. He has family and friends out there, though I have no idea if that’s how he thinks of the other cats. He has enemies and a really loud and active sex life, if that’s what you want to call the unappealing (to me) cat mating season. And even after his truly serious injuries, he was recovering quickly and, as the vet pointed out, he could still run like a motherfucker – pardon my translation from Chinese to the French.

And what had I accomplished that day? I had terrorized the cat in the name of caring for him. I had traumatized him in the most thorough way and almost gotten him lost away from his home and comfort zone. And now he was stuck in the engine of a car, where I was afraid he might die and be dead already, for we didn’t hear a peep from him for the longest time and, believe me, this cat is a very loud cat. Was I like an even more retarded George Bush, liberating the cat by sending him to Abu Ghraib?

So we waited in shifts. Maureen sent the students and me off to a restaurant to get some food while she waited for the owner of the car with the loopy, snipped puppy. When we got back, Maureen and I decided that, if the cat ever made it out of this alive, we wanted the vet to drug the living Be-Jesus out of the cat, mainly because we had both read an article about how some sedatives were good fro relieving people of their memories of really horrible events. Maureen kept insisting to the kids to repeat the request to the vet until I’m sure the vet must’ve been wondering whether all pets in America were drug addicts.

Finally, the owner of the car came home and it was around 8 o’clock, getting dark. He opened the hood of the car and out jumped the cat, clawing and screaming like he had been from the beginning. Now remember, the string was tied to his leg and he had gone under the car and up through the engine with the string and now he was clawing and fighting and wrapped around the engine and the owner of the car was also screaming about how it was a new car and there were very important computer cables in the engine and God help us if that cat destroys his new car.

Maureen and I fought our way through to the cat and got him into the cage again as Ivan used a lighter to cut the string. The car started up just fine, so the owner didn’t want to sue us, or whatever horrible Chinese civil court fate would have awaited us had the cables been severed. We got the cat back to the vet and, after an examination and some expensive prescription-writing, the vet injected him with a massive dose of sedatives.

The cat kept looking at me the whole time with eyes full of hate. Even after he was sedated, he kept staring at me like I was the worst Judas who ever tainted the animal kingdom. Even after we got home and carried his limp body to the couch, he just stared with loathing. The next day, after we let him outside, he wouldn’t have anything to do with me, or Maureen. He didn’t come meowing for food for five days or so and would run when he saw us. Oy, the guilt.

He’s back now. The weather turned warm. His friend or possibly brother, a black and white cat is back and he’s in a friendlier mood to everyone, it seems. He has stayed the night a couple of times now, but still is rather jumpy and paranoid. He doesn’t like that cage when he notices it in the corner of the living room. But I don’t feel that much better about the whole affair. My little brother is right, I know that now.

So, my advice as an uncle is: Follow The Prime Directive!



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Letters From Pappy In Chengdu - Episode 1: Another Kidney Stone

Mark "Pappy" Hossfeld was a huge influence on the Baltimore arts scene of the late '80s and early '90s. He co-founded and did most of the hands-on managing of the BAUHAUS (which he wanted to call The Astro Chimp Impact Crater) on Charles Street then and hosted his own monthly reading/performance series there called The Punch House. Each month he would read a new chapter from a novel he was working on, Dona Juana, and have various musical acts and readers of greater or lesser perversion perform along with him.

When the BAUHAUS crashed as almost all Baltimore artistic ventures did back then he moved back to his roots in the South to get a masters degree and from there he has fled even further from us, now teaching in Chengdu, China. As the Baltimore arts scene now flourishes wildly, in particular the writing scene, I often think of him and how much he would love what's going on. Shattered Wig Press would love to put out a book of his sonnets sometime in the future and hopefully he will get here soon to meet all the new bright lights at Publishing Genius and Narrow House and the i.e. and 510 series.

Meanwhile he is being the poor man's Graham Greene and producing lots of new poems, stories, drawings and the beginning of a new novel. He is also a hell of a letter writer. I plan to start peppering this blog with his missives from Chengdu and his new works, which he sadly doesn't send to anyone but us, magazine wise.

And where better to start with his letters than a great nightmarish one detailing his latest kidney stone, a curse he shares with another great writer of black humor, Blaster Al Ackerman. So did the stones come before the black humor or the black humor before the stones???

Dear Roop – So sorry for the long delay, but between my old body, the boiling soup of this Chengdu summer and the work schedule I took on this “holiday,” I have been barely dragging myself along the floor this past month. Renee was here for a month, which, while certainly the best step-father / step-daughter reunion yet, completely took over our time. During her last days here, I thought I felt a kidney stone coming. I’ve had so many I’ve begun to think myself something of an expert, self-diagnosing the bejeebus out of myself. I went to a traditional Chinese doctor at a small market in the south of the city and he made me up a strange package of sticks and weeds that I made into a potion after two hours of boiling in a cauldron, straining and stirring like a Shakespearian witch (my wok was filled to the brim with this weedy, swampy looking shit). He also instructed me to hold my hands behind my head and hop 20 times every time I had to pee. You can imagine how much fun Maureen and Renee had with that one. I like this doctor a lot. He’s a real weather-beaten old guy, lean and bony with skin that looks like it has been smoked like the plucked ducks you see hanging off old farmhouses. He’s very spry too, demonstrating for me somewhat excessively the intricacies of the pre-urinary hop.

The concoction was actually pretty tasty, very similar to pot likker and would have gone nicely with cornbread, but it did absolutely uncanny things to my poor brain. It was like very strong weed without the pleasurable parts and infringed terribly on my motor control. I’d have to sit down after a few minutes of mere standing and the pre-piss hopping became downright dangerous. So, after a week of this, I started to reconsider the whole kidney stone business and concluded I had a urinary tract infection and put myself on a schedule of antibiotics. After a week of antibiotics, I was still as miserable as before, but by now I had started my summer school schedule which was 6 days a week at the other campus, waking up at 5 am to get to a grueling, intensive, I-am-a-crazy-foreign-monkey-for-you (is that a Prince song?) “teaching” schedule. Teaching English in China is an ever-increasing sacrifice of personal dignity for the sake of an artificially depressed currency. The school is far more interested in the various ceremonies of the session, parading the foreigners in front of various dignitaries in varying degrees of personal degradation: wearing strange Chinglish T-shirts, making speeches about what is or isn’t going to happen anyway, leading bored children through ridiculous competitions in singing John Denver songs, etc.

So, the first day of class I arrived with extreme discomfort of my nether regions combined with a vicious Chinese flu, which lasted for ten days… The huge stone then passed (I added a good yelp for dramatic effect, then invited my wife to come see what I had done in the toilet – she’ll never forgive me) to remind me that “first thought is best thought,” etc.

So, now I’ve slept – I slept almost all day Saturday – and I see that this email is rather dick-focused. Let’s move up the old cadaver. As to the “earwig” poem, it’s one of those experiments I do from time to time – many folks do this, probably you too – in which I take a foreign language text I can’t understand and “translate” it; in this case, it was a letter from a 17th century Dutch sailor. I love Dutch. It looks like the dialect from some fantasmagorical E. C. Segar character out to sink Popeye and Olive Oyl on the snotty sea. There’s something dank and phlegmy about written Dutch, though it doesn’t sound all that bad. Anyway, no allegory or satire involved; no aesthetic axes to grind. I’m almost incapable of that now, anyway. Working on something about someone named Dr. Wen which I hope I can get presentable by fall, actually gonna draw some – my neighbor went back to the states and left me his scanner!

So good to see you with a stone fox and dropping hints of marriage! What’s that mean to this increasingly nastifying world I peruse from my perch? Hope? I thought we all put that puppy down after November. I hope it’s hope. I must say, America from afar isn’t very inspiring until I see wonderful things like Wondolowskis in love.

Love is all around you quoth the Troggs

Your paps.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mark Hossfeld Month Continues with "Grandstand"


When I was a boy I went to the state capital, Jackson, to see our famous new President Otto Servius. He was so fabulous then, sixty-ish, but always looking like a boy who just poked his head over a mattress and asked if bears go to jail. Turns out, the whole of Mississippi was there to see him. Everyone with an available sister found one and parked her under an ornamented canopy by the football stadium. Then the boys retreated to a bus parking lot. Handsome things in tight pants came forward in squads, held their hands together in front of their faces and flicked their tongues. Then over strolled schools of willowy girls who bent over to show the little cups of honey they used to cover their nipples. Meanwhile, the old were economical with their words, genial and cut a good figure.

There were lawyers in crisp, blue suits holding hands with their retarded nephews as little red-headed girls led enormous, black and white cows to the fairgrounds. Clutches of porky pink cadets witnessed true virtue to taunting degenerates and staggering choirs of antlered mechanics sang the Caucasian Internationale. I followed cumin-smelling Frenchmen disguised as Chinese as they once-overed the reptilian reverends with shut eyes painted on their eyelids. Ebony tobacconists in sooty smocks came out smoking into the fresh air, shouting upward.

I was small, blond and some-teen years old, in a smart, open-collared shirt. I was practicing a radioman’s cadence in anticipation of goofing on some eunuch cops.

“Smells like we’re on the trail of a rodeo, partner,” I said to the great bowl of the world. I then joined the audience in hopes of finding the chair that mine was the very first ass on.

The President’s party stopped at the Maid of Warden’s post, where he showed her proof of diction and probable sufferance. I could see the whole parade of his retinue, mortared by flash bulbs, waiting for her salute.

Pointing to the first lady busting out of her white floral top, the President joked, “We’ll find out from her how she’s counting on you and why such and such a soap milks the skin.”

The Maid laughed and beamed and saluted the President. A skirted inferno, she couldn’t help but show her stake burn was itching again. The President tipped his straw hat to the crowd and led us in the chant; “Eleventy is the new One,” which I thought was more subtle than folks had given him credit for.

Eleventy is the new One! Eleventy is the new One!

The chanting subsided and the President dove in: “Behold the nose that goads the stinkers so!” He jabbed at his face and cocked his head, so we went wild. “I am… no friend of the chirpy!” Women started throwing underwear. “My God may fail, but at least he’s not bat-shit crazy!” Some of us were bordering on public masturbation.

He removed his straw hat and thumped its little red star pin.

“I suppose you all think a little power is useful,” he said. We all sang the song “Shrieking Violets.”

“Well then how come only a few use it?” We all sang “Hermes Stubbed His Toe.”

“And if power is so damn handy, why do we lose it all the time?” We all sang “The Fossil Orchard.”

“This red star tells me,” he thumped, “to be strictly sassy from here on out. I don’t know if it’s ever the right time to be laying low at the dump. I know life when we were new was not as foreclosed as ours is now, neither physically nor morally. Air was more capacious and molecules were more tolerant. Now we only get mayonnaise for Christmas. But it’s the frontiers of vanity that are most tender. Feel yourself all over and ask yourself what that eternal scab is all about. Don’t pick it quite yet. We’ll get to that.”

The President held up for all to see a blueprint of a crank. That signaled a coil of axe-geared machinery to loudly grind. We were all given wrenches and the colossal engine was unveiled.

“I am a bug in a world without windshields. I swear by my momma’s stainless panties I will give you a future with a story. Thank God every day is not Christmas!”

As the shouting and applause began to die down, I thought, what clodhoppers we are to egg on this dirty old critter to sing. I threw my wrench down because I knew the Maid of Warden, as she removed the two serious microphones, was going to look over just once more, was going to go home, take off her bra and panties and think of the President.

- Mark Hossfeld

Worms Reading March 15

WORMS--Mar 15

Rupert Wondolowski, Robby Rackleff, Tim Paggi, Kim Tabara
Monday, March 15, 2010
7:00pm - 10:00pm
ZODIAC [1726 N Charles Street, Baltimore, MD]


WORMS begins with one or several sound pieces at 7 PM. Readings begin at 8 PM.

This month's event features—
~RUPERT WONDOLOWSKI recently returned to the small silver screen in Michael Kimball and Luca DiPierro’s film 60 Writers/60 Places. He is the author of The Origin of Paranoia as a Heated Mole Suit (Publishing Genius Press) and The Whispering of Ice Cubes (Shattered Wig Press). Rain Taxi Review called his writing "macabre, mischievous, playful, and irreverent, approximating a fusion of William Kotzwinkle, Ron Padgett (circa Great Balls of Fire), Richard Brautigan, and Charles Bukowski". His writing has most recently appeared in the i.e., Series Reader, Lamination Colony, Fell Swoop, and Mud Luscious Press Stamp Stories. He is the editor and publisher of The Shattered Wig Press.


~TIM PAGGI is a poet, playwright, performer, and co-conspirator of the Baltimore Annex Theater. Most recently, he adapted the film Fantastic Planet into a new stage play, which will debut in April at the Transmodern Festival before touring north. Paggi also organizes the sporadic Annex Theater Writing workshop. Please email him to participate:

~KIM TABARA lives and works in Baltimore City. Since before the turn of the century, he has been involved in Baltimore's underground music and arts community. He is working on a collection of short stories entitled Recent Failures: A Collection of Rejected Work.